What a difference a week makes! After week 1 most people were of the mind that the Packers defense was the same soft, hole filled group that under performed all year last year. Last Thursday the Packer defense looked much more like the stingy group that the team leaned on early in the year through out 2010. So the question we are left with is which one is closer to the truth?
It's hard to find answers to questions like these so early in the year. So many teams are still trying to find their identity and get their feet under them. Throw in some third tier referees changing the landscape of the game and the identity of a team is much more difficult to perceive. Despite this lack of solid ground to gauge where the team is at there are a few things that can be gleaned, first and foremost of which is the fact that the Packers pass rush is present once again. Right now Clay Matthews is leading the league in sacks with 6 and the closest after him has 3. The Packers defense also leads the league in sacks as a team with 11. Not too bad.
What does this mean? Well, my take on it is that the defense is custom made for a quarterback like Jay Cutler and will need some help against a quarterback like Alex Smith. When facing a QB and offense that likes to throw the ball, or one that needs to throw the ball because they have gotten behind, then the defense is very good. The pass rush has improved and the secondary is able to cover well enough (assuming Jarrett Bush and M.D. Jennings are not on the field). They also have a knack for getting the interception. If the defense is playing a QB who is throwing short and trying to limit his mistakes...one who gets the ball out quickly and relies on his receivers and running backs to break tackles...an offense that exploits the middle of the field with running backs and tight ends...well then the defense is going to struggle. At the very least it's a time when the defense is going to need to rely on the offense to get going. The good news is that in this division the only team that presents that sort of challenge is the Minnesota Vikings.
How The Passing Defense Did Against The Bears
Key Performances: Clay Matthews - 4 Tackles 3.5 Sacks
Tramon Williams - 4 tackles 2 passes deflected 2 interceptions
Jerron McMillian - 2 assisted tackles 1 pass deflection 1 interception
Jay Cutler had a passer rating of 28.2 and Brandon Marshall had as many catches on Tramon Williams. Those two stats tell most of what happened on Thursday. The Packers shut down what some believed to be the greatest Bear offense ever, and shut it down in tremendous fashion. The defensive line made plays (Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels each notched their first sack in the NFL), the linebackers held their own in coverage and got pressure, and the secondary played as well as can be expected.
Perhaps most important in this game was the play of the rookies. Casey Hayward got some field time and held down his receiver. Worthy and Daniels were able to get pressure and win their battles up front. Nick Perry had a reduced role due to an injured wrist, but was able to help get some pressure. Dezman Moses also got in on the fun of chasing Cutler around and helping free up Matthews. Most dramatic though was the play of Jerron McMillian. McMillian was able to show some ball hawking ability getting one INT and nearly getting another, as well as assist in coverage in a way that few other Packer safeties have shown an ability to over the past couple years. If the Packers continue to roll with this many rookies contributing on defense, which I hope they do, it's going to mean some up and down games. Thursday's game was definitely and up moment for these young players.
How The Packers Did Against The Bears Running Game
I think the stats lie a bit here. The Bears were able to move the ball at times on the ground to be sure, but I don't think the Bears were able to run the ball as consistently as Bush's and Forte's numbers suggest. B.J. Raji and Jerel Worthy did a good job of winning battles up front and A.J. Hawk put together a nice game at getting penetration and getting dudes to the ground. D.J. Smith even got in on the fun and was able to add pressure as a run stopper and a pass rusher.
How The Packers Punting Unit Performed Against The Bears
Tim Masthay - 5 Punts 47.5 Average 57 Long 3 Inside the 20 yard line 1 touchback
Devin Hester - 2 PR 8 Yards 4.0 Average 7 Long
Masthay had a great night. His punts were high and often long enough. The punt cover teams also echoed this strong performance by limiting Hester to basically nothing in the return game. Masthay has had plenty of success neutralizing Hester of the past three years.
How The Packers Kick Cover Unit Performed Against The Bears
Devin Hester - 2 KR 57 Yards 28.5 Average 38 Long
When dealing with a kick returner with the skill of Hester, giving up one 38 yard return is not too bad a night. The fact that it was only one of two returns in general....well I'll call that a win.
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